In the autumn of 2001, less than four weeks after the last Taliban fled Kabul, the Park guesthouse opened its doors to the first of the small army of expatriate experts and aid workers who began coming in to help rebuild the country. Facing the Embassy of Holland, just up the road from India’s old diplomatic mission, and a few minutes away from Kabul’s Shahr-e-Nau park and business district, the guest house was home to many Indians for months, even years.
The attack, on Wednesday, that claimed the lives of 14 people, including four Indians—two auditors and a consultant engaged on Afghan government projects, as well as a worker with a prominent non-governmental organisation— has raised fears the story of hope the Park represented could be coming to an end.
Wednesday’s attack targetted a concert by the eminent Hindustani-classical virtuoso, Ustad Eltaf Ahmad Sarahang—who, at just 18, had been appointed as court musician to Afghanistan’s last king, Zahir Shah. It was an effort by Indian and Turkish expatriates in Afghanistan, as well as their friends, to signal their commitment to Afghanistan, in spite of fears over its future.
Early speculation, fuelled by comment from Ahmad Zia Masood—an aide to President Ashraf Ghani, and brother of slain anti-Taliban resistance leader Masood Ahmad—led to reports that the attack may have been intended to assassinate India’s ambassador to Kabul.
However, Amar Sinha, India’s ambassador to Kabul, told The Indian Express that while he had been invited to the concert, he had not confirmed his attendance and may not have been able to attend because of other work commitments. “Its hard to say if there was one specific target”, he told The Indian Express, “there were so many expatriates at the Park from all over the world”.
The victims of the attack included an Italian, his Kazakh wife, a United States national, an Afghan holding a British passport, and two Pakistani nationals—all waiting at 9pm, for the concert to begin later that evening.
Sinha said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “called to express condolences and appreciate the valuable work Indians are doing here, as well as their contributions”, Ambassador Sinha said.
“In spite of the risks”, Sinha added, “Indians are involved in critical sectors of the Afghan economy, in skill development and empowerment. Indians will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Afghan friends”.
The attack was the second on the Park’s guest house—the earlier one, which simultaneously targeted two guesthouses in February, 2010, eighteen people, including nine Indians. The attackers first levelled the Arya guest house—popular with Indian medical staff—and then entered the Park, shooting at random. The Safi Landmark hotel and mall, just up the road, was also hit.
“It was a very friendly, convenient, organised and relatively secure place”, recalls New Delhi based scholar Gulshan Sachdeva, who stayed on the Park during frequent visits to Kabul. “There were also always some Indians there”.
Major L. Jyotin Singh, of the Indian Army’s Medical Corps, Major Deepak Yadav of the Army Education Corps, Nitish Chibber, of the Army Education Corps, Indo-Tibetan Border Police constable Roshan Lal and expatriate engineer Roshan Lal were among the Indians killed—along with the rising Tabla virtuoso, Ustad Nawab Khan
In spite of the tragedy, the Park reopened, now calling itself the Park Palace, soon reopened—in a statement of resilience and hope.
There have been a string of attacks on civilian facilities in Kabul, intended to drive out foreign aid workers and experts critical to the survival of Afghanistan’s economy and government.
Last year, in March jihadists targeted the high-security Kabul Serena Hotel, killing, among other others, the eminent Paraguayan diplomat Luis Maria Duarte, and the well-known Afghan journalist Sardar Ahmad, who died along with his wife and two of their three small children. An Indian diplomatic official, who was hosting a friend for dinner that night, narrowly escaped.
Two months before the Serene attack, jihadists shot up a restaurant popular with expatriates, killing 21 people.
In 2013, an attack on a guest house for staff of the United States security firm DynCorp claimed the lives of Indian nations John Martis, Sandeep Jilaji, Naveen Kumar Gurudi and Kaushik Charaborty.
The attacks have been attributed to the Kabul Attack Network—a Taliban unit run by the Islamist warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, with aid from allied jihadist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. In testimony to the United States Senate, former United States joint chiefs of staff chairman Mike Mullen described the Haqqani Network as “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
The ISI has also been blamed by the United States and Afghanistan for two attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, and strikes on its consulates in Jalalabad and Herat.